From the blog

Asia’s asbestos epidemic grows as sales focus on the poor

Published: August 12, 2014

In most Western countries, asbestos is a banned substance due to the associated health risks. Research supports the constraints with billions spent on removal. Unfortunately, not all areas of the world follow these beliefs and procedures.

India is the world’s biggest asbestos importer, with double-digit and annual growth and a $2 billion industry.  More than one billion people live in India, with 300,000 working in one the 100 manufacturing plants.

Companies hold conferences and meetings to refute safety claims and inform attendees and media that the hype about asbestos is simply that- hype and the Western world overreacting. Following original reports citing chrysotile fibers are safe with the proper protection; they use those and avoid the amphiboles, which are more jagged.

In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report naming chrysotile as less dangerous, but retracted this statement in 2012 and called for a worldwide ban of all asbestos fibers. Not surprisingly, officials in India include only the 1997 statement in their presentations.

The poor nation features many cases of illiteracy, and villages don’t realize the dangers posed. One village first learned about the risks after a child attended school in a neighboring area and brought a chemistry book home, illustrating the potential problems to the residents for the first time.

When a company began the process of establishing a mill in town, the village petitioned and eventually tore the construction site down brick by brick in an act of desperation when no one listened to their concerns.

As the world began realizing the dangers of asbestos, Asia’s use took off in the 1970s without much concern to the risks. The products are marketed to the poor in the form of housing materials.

While the corporations maintain they learned from the West’s mistakes and have everyone handle the substance carefully in the proper gear, it’s known the gear is only supplied for inspection days. Workers carry broken concrete slabs mixed with asbestos without gloves because the supervisors claim it’s safe when it’s combined with the cement. No care is taken to ensure they don’t leave the plant with fibers still on their clothes.

According to WHO, approximately 125 million are exposed to asbestos each year. The latency period allows decades before asbestos’ victims show signs of illness. The International Labor Organization estimates 100,000 people are killed each year from exposure in the workplace with thousands more dying from other exposure.

The full effects of the asbestos problem in India isn’t monitored because little to no research is completed. Time will tell the deadly effects.


Daigle, K. (2014). Asbestos pushed in Asia as product for the poor. AP. [Link]

Mahajan, A. (2011). Asia’s emerging asbestos epidemic. United Nations University. [Link]

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